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MoDOT presents details on two plans for Center Junction construction

Officials from the Missouri Department of Transportation
(MoDOT) presented two plans for the construction of a diverging diamond
interchange at I-55 and Hwy. 61 (Center Junction) during the July 26 special
meeting of SEMPO (Southeast Metropolitan Planning Organization).

These were the same two plans that previously been
discussed, but MoDOT now had maps showing traffic flow for the early and late
stages of both plans.

After much discussion and planning with local officials,
MoDOT had originally put the construction of the interchange out for bid,
hoping for a price tag of around $12 million. On the original plans, traffic
would be down to one lane each way on Hwy. 61 and all freeway accesses would
remain open most of the time during the construction.

When the bids came in, they ranged from $18.5 million to $24
million, and all bids were rejected as being excessive.

After speaking with the contractors, MoDOT felt it could get
lower bids by closing Hwy. 61 between Jackson and Cape for seven months.
Meanwhile, right turns on and off I-55 would remain open during construction.
One reason for the high bids was because it involved “a significant amount of
staging” to keep access open in all directions.

City officials objected to this plan because it was felt
that closing through traffic between Jackson and Cape for seven months would
cause economic hardships for businesses in both communities, but especially
along Hwy. 61 in Jackson, and would make commuting between the cities a

During those seven months of closure, construction crews
would be free to build the diverging diamond lanes that will go under the I-55
bridges without having traffic in their way. Also, construction of new, shorter
I-55 bridges could go on unimpeded by traffic passing under them.

After the seven-month period, traffic between Jackson and
Cape on Hwy. 61 will transfer to the newly constructed diverging diamond. I-55
on and off ramps would remain right turn only until the project is completed in
about two years.

During the first phase of this plan, traffic going north on
I-55 could not exit at Center Junction to go to Jackson. Traffic going
southbound on I-55 could not exit and go to Cape. Traffic would have to use a
different exit (William Street/Route K, East Main/LaSalle or Fruitland).

During the second stage, when Hwy. 61 is open for through
traffic, traffic going north on I-55 would have to exit toward Cape and make a
U-turn to get to Jackson, and traffic going southbound on I-55 would have to
exit into Jackson and make a U-turn to get to Cape.

This plan is estimated to cost $15.8 to $16 million.
Contractors could start construction as early as next March and phase 1 should
be completed by Nov. 1, 2020.

Because Jackson and Cape officials had opposed the closing
of Hwy. 61 for through traffic, MoDOT came up with a second option. This option
keeps through traffic open throughout most of the construction period but
closes the I-55 North on-ramp and I-55 South off-ramp (the ramps on the north
side of Hwy. 61) closed for about eight months from March to Dec. 1, 2020.

In this option, traffic going west from Cape to Jackson on
Hwy. 61 will be diverted near the cemetery onto the current eastbound passing
lane of Hwy. 61. One lane will remain open in each direction with head-to-head
traffic through the intersection.

This gives contractors room to work, and fill material from
the north side of Hwy. 61 can be taken and used where needed without traffic
being in the way. The new diverging diamond lanes will be constructed between
the current east and west bound lanes of Hwy. 61.

This option is estimated to cost $16.5 million.

Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs asked if there could be some
incentive written into the contract to make the contractor want to open up the
I-55 southbound ramp to Jackson earlier than eight months. Mark Shelton,
MoDOT’s project engineer, said that could be done.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox was concerned that during
construction, this option doesn’t allow traffic to flow from the SportsPlex
back to Cape Girardeau. All traffic from the SportsPlex will have to turn right
and go into Jackson. He said there can be 500 cars at a sports event. Shelton
said MoDOT will look at what can be done to fix that.

Mayor Hahs pleaded again for MoDOT to reconsider the
original plan that kept all interstate accesses open and through traffic on
Hwy. 61. He suggested that some costs would be cut by slightly changing the
requirements (already being done in the other options) and if bids still came
back higher, the difference may be offset by tax revenue that will not be lost
by businesses along Hwy. 61, which will suffer under both of the new options.

This was rejected out of hand by Shelton, who said, “We are
unable to go any further with the budget.”

Other changes to help lower the bids, include removing a
requirement that contractors maintain the current southbound I-55 bridge
throughout the construction period, the type of concrete mix to be used, and
changing the time of construction from winter to summer, when prices for
material are less.

When asked why MoDOT doesn’t just leave the interchange as
is and re-deck the I-55 bridges, and possibly resurface Hwy. 61 under it (for
an estimated cost of only $3.5 million), Jason Williams of MoDOT said doing so
would keep two very long 600 foot bridges on I-55 that are “nonstandard.”
Interstate bridges are now required to be 8 feet wider than these bridges.
Resurfacing the bridges would add 30 years of life, but the substructure of
those bridges is already more than 50 years old and is not “seismically
designed.” There also is a limited vertical clearance for Hwy. 61 under I-55.
The condition of these bridges is a “five” on a 10-point scale, he said.

The new bridges will be shorter (and therefore less
expensive to maintain), and built to current standards. Also, the diverging
diamond interchange under I-55 will be safer and more efficient for traffic
flow when completed.

MoDOT will tweak the construction pans to see what can be
done to open the I-55 southbound exit into Jackson sooner than eight months,
and to allow SportsPlex traffic to go back into Cape Girardeau. MoDOT will
report back at the Aug. 21 SEMPO meeting.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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